Monday, April 13, 2009


In Modernism we see the rejection of cause and effect. Nietzsche attacked the Enlightenment’s teleological ideas of progress. Teleology implies that there is a master narrative that has a purpose for a better world. Nietzsche thinks that there is no goal to history, science, or man, and that all these things are always becoming without being. He believes everything is changing and nothing will ever reach being, because thesis and antitheses are in constant agonal dialog, and never reach a Hegelian synthesis. Nietzsche rejects teleology in favor of a chaotic universe with no absolutes. Chaos involves “an errant or labyrinthine world-trajectory” and “a perspectival or interpretive multiplicity” (Cox 206) The rejection of teleology lead to the rejection of a design or a designer. Nietzsche overturns the idea of the symbolic space and time created by Descartes and the teleological language of cause and effect. Nietzsche replaces these two ideas with Hume’s language of habits. To Nietzsche, habits are values that are repeated throughout one’s lifetime. Values are judged by a person’s actions. Habit is best described as eternal return of the same, because repetition creates meaning.

During the time Einstein was writing his works on relativity in 1909, the teleological physicists, which were influenced by Newton and Maxwell, were trying to come up with a Theory of Everything. Newton explained the material world and Maxwell explained visual waves and fields. Einstein thought that Newton and Maxwell’s theories did not mathematically match, so he used both Newton’s relativity theory and used Maxwell’s calculations of the speed of light to come up with a theory of physics that reopened the field of study to new questions and dashed the hopes of a Theory of Everything. Space and time became relative “shadows” rather than absolutes, and the only constant in the universe became the speed of light.

Constant change challenged Newton’s notion of a stable clockwork universe. Einstein understood space and time as being in a relative, changing field. Since space and time are changing in relation to the speed of light, we lost a sense that there is a design behind the universe. If there is no design to the universe, then there cannot be a teleological end to science, because science is in constant dialog. When science answers a question, many times several new questions are created. Einstein asked how Newton and Maxwell could fit into one theory, and this created the science of relativity and a multitude of questions to be answered. So, science is proven not to reduce knowledge, as the Enlightenment thinker thought, but to expand knowledge and fracture ideas into different fields of study.


Proust, like Einstein, observed that time casts a “shadow” on the three dimensions of space. Both think space and time are inseparable categories. However, while Einstein saw the physics behind the space-time phenomenon, Proust saw memory as the “shadow” created by time on the surface of three dimensional space. In Remembrance of Things Past Proust anticipates Einstein’s understanding of time and space as linked through a frame of reference; when Marcel travels home in the carriage at the end of the book, he observes the relative nature of Martinvelle’s church and Vieuxicq on the horizon. As the carriage approaches Vieuzicq, the Martinvelle church seems to change positions, and as the carriage turns a corner, the position of the church and town reverse. According to Joseph Franks, Proust sees time as giving “the value and characteristics of space,” because the objects are observed shifting positions in space while Marcel is traveling over the period of time.

Proust’s chronotope gives the feeling of relative time affecting relative space through memory. Marcel’s carriage ride was a memory in time, but the church is a place in time. The church is associated with the memory, so the church is at the same time in the moment of memory and in the space where it exists. In other words, the church exist in the two geometries of an “imaginary time” and a “Newtonian, realist time” (Vargish 91). Proust uses both geometries together to create moments that are illustrated in memories.

Proust tries to show the impact of each moment he records as he had felt them when he experienced them. The experiences are feelings of the permanent essence of the things that are concealed by normal observations. The true self is freed from the concealment by what Joseph Frank calls a “celestial nourishment” that comes from the sensory stimulation in the present and the past. Frank thinks that, “the physical sensations of the past come flooding back to fuse with the present” (McKeon 737). In these moments, Proust is able to grasp the true reality. Time is transcended in order to reveal the true nature of reality, or, in Proust words, his novel “will imprint on it a form which usually remains invisible, the form of time.” Like Plato, Proust does not think humans see the real world, because the real world is hidden. In Plato’s cave allegory, shadows are being reflected on the wall in much the way as Einstein’s “shadow” of time is reflecting on the dimension of space.

According to Stephen Kern, “Proust compresses successive experiences into a single heightened moment” (Kern 85). Proust’s long writing style creates moments in time filled with important events, but very little action. Proust dedicates fifty-one pages to Marcel lamenting over whether to go to bed without a goodnight kiss from his mother. Joseph Frank wrote, “at certain moments, the physical sensation of the past comes flooding back to fuse with the present. Proust believed that in these moments he grasped a reality” (McKeon 737). Dimensions above us are realities not fully perceived, but only imagined; however, for Proust, time can become transcendental through memory. This is where the “ultimate nature of reality”opens up for Proust. For example, Marcel smells madeleine cake and tea, which brings back a flood of memories from his childhood. These memories take up nearly the whole of the novel, though they happened in a moment. Thirty years are experienced in an instant. Roger Shattrick thinks Proust, 'Undertakes a transposition of spatial vision into a new dimension. The accumulation of optical figures in search gradually transposes our depth perception from space into time. When we finally reach Time Regained, the last volume, the transplanting has been complete and there can be no doubt about the privileged nature of involuntary memory. It allows us not just to see across time, but to see time itself' (Shattrick 206).

This again shows Plato’s influence on Proust, because seeing time itself would be like seeing a Platonic Form. But unlike Plato, Proust see the Form in a constant flux and not an absolute. Time is there and not there at the same time. Proust’s moment seems to parallel Nietzsche’s experience of the eternity in the moment since the past and the future come toward us in the moment. The moment can be experienced over and over again, like Nietzsche’s eternal return. Einstein seems to think we cannot see time, but only experience it, while Proust thinks that through fiction and memory, one can see time, because the person is experiencing it. Proust uses the memory of the senses as a doorway into viewing time, since uses sounds, tastes, and smells can connect the past with the present.

Like Defoe, Proust uses many words to describe a scene, but unlike with Defoe, this he does not quicken the pace of the story. Instead Proust chronotope gives the reader a feeling of timelessness. According to Joseph Frank, “Proust ideally intends the reader to apprehend the work spatially, in the moment of time, rather than a sequence” (Frank 16). Sequences of events relates to cause and effect, and Proust rejects this idea for a more relative, fractured space and time, where events occur in and out of time.

Proust and Fractured Time

Remembrance of Things Past is not a time-sequenced [linear] novel, but rather a novel that fractures time in the Modernist tradition of fracturing the world into new categories. Darwin fractured the theory of survival, Freud fractured the mind through his theory of the ego, Einstein fractured the universe through relativity theory, and Proust fractured the novel through his organization of the novel. Proust’s novel has story arcs, flashbacks, jumps in time, repetitions, and subject leaps. He illustrates the fractures in society where individuals are taken in by huge forces outside of their control: Swann tries to say mobile in society, but gets punished because the societal controls want Swann to keep his place in the middle class. Swann’s adventures in Paris and his marriage are looked down upon by middle-class society. This is because, in the novel, the middle class subjugates stability to the masses. They see a fixed space or a Newtonian absolute space, in which everyone must participate. While absolute space is fixed and unchangeable, Marcel breaks this space by becoming an artist, since artists are accepted as class “mobile” people; that is, he can move through the social hierarchy. Using the characters of Swann and Marcel, Proust illustrates his idea that the individual has the ability to fracture society. Proust is arguing for a more fluid society, where individual can move up and down the hierarchy. A fluid class structure would allow individuals to continue becoming someone they were not born to be. A poor man can become rich, a noble can go to the theater, and a middle-classed man can become an artist. To Proust, society must be constantly changing for the individual, and should not swallow the individual in to a system of absolutes. Proust’s writing style supports a fluid society, and also illustrate the flow of time and space.

With regard to the fractures of the novel, Keith Cohen describes Proust’s writing style as “the idea that through discontinuity,” by breaking up the traditional chronological flow of time, “a more dynamic continuity can be achieved. The discontinuity of the plot and the scenic development, the sudden emersion of the thoughts and moods, the relativity and the inconsistency of the time standards” (Vassiliki 115). The discontinuity can be compared to how a film is edited, with its cuts, dissolves, interpolation, and the ability to bring together two incidents that lie many years apart, and make the instants seem only hours apart. Time is fragmented or fractured with a “reflexive reference,” or what Proust would call memory.
Not only can time fracture, it can be missed and, in the case of Marcel’s aunt, time can become completely lost. Marcel’s aunt has the experience of lost time because she is sick. I would argue that although everyone has the experience of lost time, out of habit one forgets they lost this time. Proust shows this by not focusing on every second of the day, but rather on the moment. Seconds are lost to history because the mind is not large enough to encompass all of our own histories, so one has to pick and choose the memories. Memories picked by the individual are memories that have meaning. Marcel’s memories had meaning, in the sense that the memories built Marcel into the man he had become.

Proust and Habit

David Hume defines habit as the experience of cause and effect on reality. Hume thinks humans naturally form habits rather than use their rational minds. Cause and effect is the way eighteen-century thinkers experienced time, but like Hume, Proust rejects the idea of cause and effect on the basis that cause and effect does not account for the idea of habit. Proust uses the idea of habit, and of habit creating stability, in the theme of Marcel’s Town. Marcel’s family takes two roads to and from the church. The family wants people to stay in their “class” because they seek stability in society, and the family takes care of his sick aunt out of habit rather than telling her that getting out of bed would make her better. For Proust, habit is not a linear approach to time, because one can look at any particular day in a person’s life and cannot tell when it happened or what the cause was to make these events happen. Cause and effect is noticeable only when one looks at the whole of a life, and then one can connect the knowledge of the particular habits to cause and effect. Proust gives clues to the fate of Marcel becoming a writer through facts like his constant reading, his interest in the theater, his observational skills, and attempts to become a writer. However, we can only come to this conclusion when we reach the end, because at the end Marcel is a writer. These same elements that lead Marcel to be a writer could easily have lead to his becoming a politician, an actor, or to an other career; but it just happened that these particular elements made Marcel a writer. This adding up of elements of one’s life gives us a feeling of cause and effect but in reality Marcel became a writer out of habit and the drive to be a writer.

Henri Bergson tells us that the “law of memories are subject to more general laws of habit” (Vassiliki 68) Habit is a rejected succession of actions which create a relation between the individual and his or her environment. As a result, life is a succession habits. Bergson thinks Proust sees the individual as a succession of individuals, and the world as being a projection of the individual’s consciousness. This is compatible with Kant’s theory of the mind projecting the world. However, Proust differs with Kant in that he sees memory as shaping reality rather than the mind. Kant sees memory as only a part of the mind and not an exclusive factor in shaping reality. For Proust, memory can achieve the same goal as Kant’s transcendental experience. According to Bergson, when one experiences memory, one becomes an “extra-temporal being that lives on another plane of existence outside time and death” (Vassiliki 68).


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